On May 28 of this summer, I started working at the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art as the Collections Management Assistant. Every day I learn something new about collections management, Bill Reid and his art, and about First Nations culture and activism in Vancouver. This has come through listening in on events and tours, helping prepare the gallery for new exhibitions, and daily collections management duties. For the past two months, I have been updating and organizing digital and physical archival files, consolidating photos of art, and doing an inventory of the physical artworks and artifacts in storage. I have also gone through the archival boxes and created groupings of records, and a numbering system. Although the repetitive elements of this work might bore someone else, as a grad student in Library and Archival Studies, I enjoy it greatly. Specifically, I like the sense of accomplishment from organizing in a meaningful way, and that this will improve access and use of the collection when the summer is complete.
When I first learned about this position, I was excited to blend the knowledge from my Bachelor’s in Archaeology with my current Master’s, and the fact that this is a First Nations institution. Although I am not First Nations myself, I follow a lot of news about First Nations land and environmental issues, as well as cultural and language reclamation issues.
I think it is important to improve communication and empathy between different communities and to know the history of the land one lives on.
In my program at McGill, we learned that it’s becoming common to refer to Libraries, Archives, and Museums, as “memory institutions” (Rubin 2017), because they preserve the collective memory of important events, and allow them to remain in public consciousness. This means that libraries, museums and archives like the Bill Reid Gallery play a central role in educating non-Indigenous Canadians on First Nations history, and helping bridge the gap in worldview and experience between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.
Multiple times over the past year, I’ve had people ask or tell me that librarianship is a “dying profession.” In response, I always explained the necessity of organized entry points for large collections, as well as some of the background work that goes into making information findable.
I’ve also tried to communicate that information literacy is still shockingly low despite the fact that we live in a technological age.
The American Library Association defines information literacy as the ability to “recognize when information is needed, and have the ability to effectively locate and use information” (ALA 2016). Sometimes this means stepping away from Google, and walking into your local library or museum, or communicating with people of different lived experiences. I think information literacy can come from talking with people as much as from reading and researching.
Nowadays when someone tells me librarianship is a dying profession, I also bring up my job at the Bill Reid Gallery to show that the goals of the profession overlap with important issues of cultural heritage management, language reclamation, and public education. Librarianship is needed now more than ever. This idea was also re-emphasized for me when I attended the Association of Jewish Libraries Conference in Los Angeles last month. I observed how many similar issues there were, such as language reclamation, documentation, and digitization of history, and the promotion of positive cultural values and inter-community dialogue. It was wonderful to see how libraries, archives, and collection management can make a major difference for individuals and communities who need it. Overall I feel very grateful to be working at the Bill Reid Gallery this summer, and am eager to continue learning and contributing what I know.
July 23, 2019
Thanks to Young Canada Works in Heritage Organizations for providing this great opportunity.